The past few years haven’t been kind to France’s most famous sparkling wine. For the second consecutive year, the world drank less Champagne than it did in the previous year. Current estimates have sales volumes falling by 3% to 4% this year, after dropping over 4% in 2012.
Champagne’s fall from grace has to do partly with the rise of cheaper alternatives made outside France—for instance, Spanish cava and Italian prosecco—which are particularly popular with cash-crunched Europeans (80% of French Champagne is sold in Europe). Champagne sales dropped in France this year by over 4%, while across the European Union, they dipped by over 10%. Britain, the world’s largest importer of Champagne that consumes roughly 10% of global Champagne, will ship in more prosecco than French bubbly for the first time ever this year, and its prosecco sales have risen almost 40% in the year to October.
There is still hope for French bubbly. Sales are expected to grow heavily in Australia, Africa (Nigeria in particular) and China in the years ahead. In the US, sales of Moët & Chandon, the country’s top selling Champagne, have risen by 6% this year. But those sales aren’t likely to offset the steep decline in Europe, Champagne’s biggest market, anytime soon. “The dependence of Champagne on the European markets remains a reality, even if shipments towards more distant countries are developing,” Champagne expert at the NEOMA business school in Reims David Menival told the Independent.
In the long run, however, China could come through for French Champagne makers. In May, the Chinese government restricted use of the word “Champagne” on bottles sold in China to French bubbly, which the French government hopes will boost Champagne’s sales. Chinese drinkers already have an eye for authentic luxury. To save French Champagne, they’ll need to acquire its acidic taste.